Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Eirik Gumeny - Exponential Apocalypse
There have been twenty-two apocalypses to date. There were now four distinct variations of humanity roaming the Earth – six, if you counted the undead.
It had been suggested that there really should have been a new word to describe "the end of everything forever," but most people had stopped noticing, much less caring, after the tally hit double digits. Not to mention the failure of "forever" in living up to its potential.
The last apocalypse wasn't even considered a cataclysm by most major governments.
It was just a Thursday. (p. 7)
Eirik Gumeny's Exponential Apocalypse is one hundred and ninety-five pages and eighty four chapters. In those pages, everything that transpires can be summed up as one of the following: Explosions, Slapstick, Exposition, or Dialogue. This is a novel wholly unconcerned with traditional ideals like setting up characters, like pacing or moderation, or like logical and foreshadowed plots. No, Exponential Apocalypse is focused on spectacle, and the spectacle on display is hilarious.
It's difficult to envision a successful plot summary, but I'll try to at least hit a few of the major elements (there are, in case you're wondering, a truckload of generally unrelated characters doing totally unrelated and hilarious things). A group of three reincarnated world leaders is passing time, barbecuing, and getting into scraps with assorted tough guys and mutants. Employees at a Holiday Inn happen to be cyborgs or Norse gods and grouse about fetching extra pillows. An Aztec god philosophizes about world domination with English majors. A telekinetic squirrel…
…see, this just isn't possible. Exponential Apocalypse is not, as we've already established, particularly concerned with making sense or building to much of anything. Instead, the various groups of characters wander around, get into ludicrous mishaps, and somehow get out again, if they don’t end up being destroyed in some incredibly gruesome fashion. There is, in the end, a main plot, but it doesn't come into play until we're closer to the end than the beginning, and the feeling of random what the fuck?-ness doesn't end until the last page is turned.
An example of the humor is probably warranted by this point. Our introduction to one of the main characters – the aforementioned Aztec deity – is this:
Quetzalcoatl stared at the clock. The digital representation of time stared back.
Quetzalcoatl stared even harder at the clock. The time did not blink.
Quetzalcoatl stared as hard as he fucking could at the clock. The clock burst into flames.
Granted, this didn't stem so much from the staring as it did the clock's position on top of a lit stove, but Quetzalcoatl didn't care. He hated that clock.
Quetzalcoatl was not well. (p. 19)
All of this…quirkiness (a word that does not even come close to describing the monumental strangeness of this book) is made comprehensible by Gumeny's world building. As well no doubt come as no surprise, the Earth of Exponential Apocalypse is not subtly constructed. Ideas are brought up, then ramped up, and then, when there's nothing left to do with them, declared an apocalypse while the book goes on to find the next huge explosion. All of this is narrated in a humorous style that renders the novel's many info dumps entertaining. Often, the exposition is balanced by a scene – generally one involving some form of over the top violence – and the juxtaposition often works, though there is the occasional passage made weaker by the rests in between.
Much of the humor here comes from Gumeny's truly monolithic irreverence. Nothing mentioned is safe, and it's plain that Gumeny takes pleasure in smashing through your sensibilities as often, and as forcefully, as possible. English majors (Sixty Two: This One Goes Out To All the English Majors (p.139)) , American foreign policy (OK, fine, we'll do it your soft, fuzzy way," the president continued. "Release the murder drones." (p. 116)), and scientific responsibility (It probably wasn't the best idea cross-breeding a werewolf and an atomic mutant, engineering it to be excessively belligerent, starving it, and then insulting its mother repeatedly. (p. 56)) are just some of the things brutally attacked here. By the end, the whole thing can become a tad desensitizing, but Gumeny is generally able to get laughs from more than just shock, even if that is a significant part of his armory.
I realize that this is, really, a pretty poor review. I feel more tour guide than critic, just pointing out various aspects rather than really commenting on them. But I'm not sure what else there is to do. Exponential Apocalypse is crass, ludicrous, and occasionally nonsensical. It's also hilarious and entertaining. If you liked the Quetzalcoatl quote or the cover blurb, you'll like the book. If not, you'll despise it by the end. There's not much more to say.